Tennessee: Mother Convicted for Not Treating Daughter’s Cancer

Jacqueline Crank

The Supreme Court in Tennessee recently upheld the conviction of a woman who refused to arrange treatment for her teen daughter Jessica, who was suffering from cancer, due to religious reasons. Jacqueline Crank had earlier argued that she should be pardoned, as she depended on prayer to heal her 15-year-old daughter. However, Crank was sentenced to probation, after her daughter succumbed to a malignant tumour on her shoulder in 2002.

In Tennessee, it is unlawful for parents to refuse arranging treatment for children who are in dire need of medical attention, except those who solely depend on prayer for healing. This exception, under the Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act, however, is only applicable to faith healing conducted by accredited practitioners who are associated with a recognized religious denomination.

In her defense, Crank had said the exception was worded too vaguely for her to completely understand the risk of failing to abide by it. Yet, while sentencing her, the appeals court clarified that the law was not all that vague.

When the Supreme Court heard the case in September of last year, Crank said she was seeking advice from a man, who had received accreditation from Universal Life Church, which reportedly accredits any person that fills up an application form. Then, Crank went on to allege that Tennessee’s Spiritual Treatment Exemption Act was unlawful because it considers certain faith healing techniques legitimate while criminalizing some others. The court still ruled against Crank, saying even if the law was unconstitutional, striking it down would not undo what Crank had failed to do in the first place. It would merely get rid of the exception allowed for faith healing, thus keeping the law intact and still making it illegal for Crank not to arrange medical help for her diseased child.

Crank, who was initially charged with felony, had the charges downgraded eventually, after doctors said that her daughter would have died in all probability, even if she had been taken to the hospital right away. Eventually, it was the Department of Children’s Services that admitted Jessica to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, where she breathed her last. According to documents produced in court, the cancer had led to the development of a grapefruit-sized tumour on Jessica’s shoulder that often caused her pain.

While pediatric oncologist Victoria Castaneda testified that Jessica would not have been cured with treatment, she also explained, “It would have helped in dealing with her condition and symptoms and positively impacted the quality of her life.”

Photo Credits: Times Free Press

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